Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Better route planning: view Google Maps as OpenCPN charts

The issue with navigation charts

Like many fellow cruisers, I can't think of tools I regard as more indispensabile than my navigation charts and OpenCPN, my favorite chart plotter and navigation software. Both definitely fall in the category of "don't leave port without them". 

The problem with navigation charts (and navigation software in general) is that:
  • They do not offer visual clues as to how the location will actually look like. So they are great for ...well...navigation, but are somewhat lacking when it comes to planning a route and choosing among a number of potential destinations along the way.
  • They are sometimes not up to date: new structures (dock, bridges etc) may have been added since the chart was last updated. 
  • In some cases, they may not be 100% accurate. 
On the last point, I was recently reminded of how charts in developing countries may be affected by significant offsets while cruising in beautiful Baja California, where some charts were last compiled long before GPS became available, and were off by as much as a mile in a few cases!  

So I found myself using Google Maps as a way to complement my route planning exercises. And then I started asking myself: what if there was a way to view Google Maps (particularly the satellite images) right within OpenCPN? And perhaps save them to my hard disk so that I didn't have to depend on Internet connectivity?

Complementing navigation charts with Google Maps

While not designed for navigation, Google Maps are becoming an important compendium to route planning, working side by side with traditional navigation charts. Satellite imaging provides a great way to see how our destination actually looks like: how wide is the beach by the anchorage? Is the land covered in vegetation? Are there any unsightly buildings or industrial facilities in plain view from the anchorage?

Of course, we could always fire up our browser and go to maps.google.com to take a look. But what if we have no Internet access, as in most cases when cruising?

Enter a new feature in squidd.io: downloading google satellite images for any of the thousands of destinations in a format that is compatible with OpenCPN, and can be viewed offline and superimposed to other raster (.kap) navigation charts.   Maps can be downloaded at different levels of zoom: from highly detailed small scale charts for a specific marina or anchorage, to large scale charts covering entire regions.

How to import Google Maps into OpenCPN

Downloading and importing a Google Map into OpenCPN in .kap format is extremely easy:
  1. Navigate to the location you are interested in on sQuidd.io. (for instance,  the Treasure Island anchorage shown in the image above, in the San Francisco Bay) . I find it very convenient to do this directly from within OpenCPN using the squiddio plugin.
  2. Select the level of zoom you need for the chart. I normally download a high-definition 1 x 1 nautical mile chart covering the anchorage, and a larger, say, 6 x 6 NM lower definition chart covering the vicinity. If your itinerary covers multiple destinations, you can create a patchwork of different charts so that the entire area is covered at different levels of zoom. Use the + and - control on the Google map to adjust the level of zoom. See the table below for indicative chart sizes relative to their Google Maps zoom level.

  3. Google Maps zoom levels and Chart size
    Zoom Level Approximate Area
    covered by chart (NM)
    15 1 x 1
    12 11 x 11
    10 44 x 44

  4. Click on the download chart button, right below the map in the destination page. In a second or two your .kap file will be available on your hard drive. 
  5. Copy the file (or files) to your OpenCPN chart directory (go to Settings/Charts to find the directories OpenCPN is using).  I use Chart Groups extensively to organize my charts in OpenCPN, so I have created a specific group for Google Satellite Maps, which are saved to a directory contained within raster chart directory. This way I can view only and all the Google charts I have downloaded, or view them "quilted" with the other raster charts (which is useful when wanting to assess the accuracy of old raster charts).
  6. Update the chart database in OpenCPN (again, Settings->Charts->Scan Charts and Update Database). 
You are done! You can now view your Google Map in OpenCPN like you would any other chart. Zoom in and out, pan, hide them, see your boat's position on them, measure distances, create routes etc. Remember though, Google Maps were not designed for navigation, so stick to your navigation charts for the real thing, using Google Maps for route planning or verification purposes only.

Like anything on sQuiddio, this feature is entirely free, so play around with it and let me know what you think.
Happy route-planning!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Avoid Crowded Anchorages This Summer

Have you ever anxiously approached an anchorage wondering how crowded and busy it was going to be? Will it look like the beautifully secluded haven pictured on your cruising guide, or will it turn out to be every boater's nightmare with tens of noisy super-size yachts, reveling parties and loud music blaring all night? Perhaps even a cruise ship anchored right in the middle of it?

You can now check some real time vital statistics on the anchorage directly in many of the destination sQuiddio pages when you plan your next cruise. Thousands of checkins from boats large and small, including sailboats, recreational power boats and cruise ships are monitored every day to compile useful popularity stats in real time, and show key frequentation indicators in intuitive charts.

Add the rich selection of photos available in most pages, the famous sQuidd.io Pupularity Index, other user's comments and you can truly....get the picture!

Don't be surprised again! Make sQuidd.io your favorite cruise planning tool.

See the popularity stats on the top 100 cruising destinations

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Featured sQuiddio user: S/V Reboot

Our kudos and mos heartfelt thanks to Roger, advanced sQuiddio user and skipper of Sailing Yacht Reboot, a Catalina 42 Mark II. Roger has been one of the first users to deploy the embedded iframe in his blog, and has been sharing his thoughts and ideas with the sQuidd.io team for a while.

Nothing like the constructive feedback from an experienced sailor and IT professional like Roger to make sQuidd.io more helpful and fun.

Fair winds and happy sailing, Roger!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sharing your positions map on your blog


Sometimes you may want people not currently in your sQuiddio follow list to be able to view your current position on a map.

If you manage a blog or web site there's a pretty easy way of doing that: include an HTML iframe in one of your pages that renders the same Google map you see in your sQuiddio Dashboard, updated to the most recent position.

Here's a step by step process on how to do that:
  1. Log in to sQuiddio
  2. Go to Preferences (in the right-hand side of the blue top bar)
  3. Select Make my position map available publicly. IMPORTANT: The iframe is not authenticated. Selecting this option will make your map available to any one who invokes the iframe. Make sure you really want your position to be known to the outside world (and not only to members of your sQuiddio follow list)
    Not enabling public iframe support will cause the message no public map for user to appear when you invoke the iframe
  4. Include the following iframe tag in your web page where you want the map displayed:
<iframe src="https://squidd.io/users/YOUR USER ID/embedded_map?size=SIZE&records=NUM_RECORDS" height="300px" width="900px" > </iframe>


  • YOUR USER ID: the number shown in your Dashboard's url. For example, the user id in the url https://squidd.io/users/11212 is 11212
    Requesting a non existing user id will cause the message no user to appear when you invoke the iframe
  • SIZE: L for large (w: 910px h: 600px) and S for small (280 x 280 px), case sensitive. If you omit this parameter the iframe will render a small map.
  • NUM_RECORDS: the number of most recent position updates you want to show. If you omit this parameter the iframe will show your latest 30 positions.

For example, these are all valid ways of constructing your iframe tag:

<iframe src="https://squidd.io/users/11212/embedded_map?size=L&records=10" height="620px" width="940px"> </iframe>

<iframe src="https://squidd.io/users/11212/embedded_map?size=S" height="300px" width="300px" > </iframe>

<iframe src="https://squidd.io/users/11212/embedded_map?records=10" height="300px" width="300px" > </iframe>

<iframe src="https://squidd.io/users/11212/embedded_map" height="300px" width="300px" >" </iframe>

Remember to size your iframe (using the height and width attributes) depending on the map size you specify in your request, and use any of the other HTML5 options available for iframes for doing things like hiding the iframe border, setting a background color etc..

To find out how to share your position updates on sQuidd.io, using your SPOT Tracker, AIS transponder or satellite phone refer to our FAQ and this log post.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

sQuiddio OpenCPN plugin version 05 released

see full announcement on the OpenCPN Facebook page

Key new features in v05:

  1. Support for Mac OS X (yes!) 
  2. Select the type(s) of destinations displayed on a chart (for instance, you can choose to only display anchorages and docks)
  3.  Improves performance during Internet downloads through the use of process threading 
  4. Displays server status messages in the log-sharing status bar
    addresses some usability issues around the use of credentials for log-sharing
  5. With the new release, sQuiddio is also introducing AIS ‘Aids to Navigation’ (ATONs) as a new category of downloadable points of interest.

 Download the new version of the plugin here